Bill de Blasio may be emerging as a national figure with his criticism of a major pillar of the neo-con Educational reform movement.
Two days ago NYC Mayoral Candidate de Blasio (the frontrunner for Tuesday's Democratic primary) announced his support for a moratorium on 'co-locating' charter schools into buildings already occupied by neighborhood schools. If 'co-locating' sounds reasonable, well it's because the practice was given a deceptively anodyne title.
NYC co-locations are really hostile takeovers (sometime in whole, sometimes in part) of zoned neighorhood schools. Kids attending then'co-located' neighborhood schools are kicked out of their classrooms and forced into yet more crowded classrooms. Charter schools don't pay rent, often get the best facilities, and cherry pick the use of 'shared space'. They often reject students who don't fit in their managers' model of the right sort of student.
This is de Blasio's strongest break yet with Bloomberg's failed schools policies and Bloomberg's ideological adherence to modern neo-con educational 'reforms' (like the No Child Left Behind Act). De Blasio is showing himself to be a serious and progressive educational leader. His call for universal daylong pre-k also shows his intent on taking pragmatic steps to strengthen NYC's schools.
Diane Ravitch, a national leader in the fight against the money wasting ineffective neo-con school reform movement praised de Blasio's statement on her website.
But the neo-cons won't quit. Already a Koch brothers linked super-PAC is making major donations to the Joe Lhota, the expected Republic nominee. ("Politicker" story here.)
The charter school movement was originally a progressive idea - let local parents try to build local alternate schools. Let a thousand classrooms bloom. Fair enough.
But this nice warm hippy concept has been hijacked and industrialized and capitalized and even securitized by the neo-cons. Bloomberg (not parents) led the push for charter schools here. His cronies at the Department of Education led the revolution from above. By last year there were 125 elementary and middle school charter schools in New York City. Charter schools now account for over 5% of NYC' students. But parent demand didn't create these schools; all were manufactured by administrative fiat. And almost none of these schools were built anew - the space was stolen from neighborhood schools.
Part of the national case made for charter schools (and the hysterical cries for reform) lies in the manufactured crisis in American schools. Pundits proclaim that our kids are behind kids from other countries. In truth, when adjusted for class, American kids are equal to kids in countries like France, and Germany in test performance. What brings the American average down is that we have a larger percentage of kids in the lowest class than those other countries. Generally speaking, then, American schools are ok. The crisis is overblown.
Still (and consistent with this analysis) New York City (and other large cities) have a large number of kids from the lower end of the income spectrum. At many schools in NYC 90% or more of the kids qualify for free lunch. And so the average kid in NYC public schools tests below national average.
So while its true New York City's kids generally don't perform as well as average American kids, it is deceptive and overkill to say all of America's kids need some giant intervention like NCLB. But national hysteria has propelled the neo-con con.
False Choice Part of the general public's nodding, abstract support for 'charter' schools lies in the notion of 'choice'. Parents - neo-cons argue - deserve a 'choice' of schools, they argue. The choice of schools is a market for a service...blah, blah, blah. This sort of tin-hat MBA reasoning has led to all sorts bad political choices - the notion that 'health care is a free market' is a similar conservative myth. (Try auctioning off your next emergency root canal.)
Actually almost all parents would choose the same thing - a sound neighborhood school. And by subsidizing charter schools Bloomberg diverted billions of Dollars that could have made neighborhood schools stronger.
The promise of charter schools was that their existence as an alternative would give parents a choice. The theory was that management of existing system would make improvements to compete with the new schools. But in NYC parents aren't really given a choice. Billions of dollars of real estate has been expropriated from neighborhood schools and given to Charter Schools. The neighborhood schools are robbed in a deliberate effort to make the Charter Schools seem more attractive. It's only natural that when given the choice between a starved carcass of a neighborhood school or an a shiny new floor in a charter school, some parents choose the latter. Bloomberg has his thumb on the scale. He has sabotaged neighborhood schools, not strengthened them.
Billions of Dollars meant for reducing class size in the poorest schools has been diverted elsewhere. Billions that could have been spent building new schools in the most overcrowded districts have spent remodeling schools so that Charter schools could be 'co-located'.
A second pillar of the "educational reform" movement is Teacher's Unions are Bad Last week's diary "The Renewed War on The Veteran Teacher" details how charters are being used to drive experienced teachers out nationally, not just in New York City. And how charter schools aren't really better and often have inexperienced and perhaps unqualified teachers.
Impact on Election
De Blasio has challenged Democratic rival Christine Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council, to pass a moratorium bill. 'Co-locations' for thirty more schools are on the agenda for the school board in October. Of course the school board (renamed the "Panel for Educational Policy" in another newspeak attempt to make us think the Mayor has it all under control) is controlled by Bloomberg appointees and will approve this batch unless blocked by the City Council.
Quinn hasn't shown any real zeal to oversee the schools in the last eight years. I doubt she'll show much before Tuesday.
If de Blasio wins the Democratic nomination, they will call him 'a puppet of the Teachers' Union'. But the Teachers' Union endorsed Bill Thompson. Hopefully the charge won't stick. Though hopefully teachers and parents will recognize the reasonableness of de Blasio's call for a moratorium, and his call for universal pre-k.
De Blasio could be New York City's next Mayor. He can use the office to not only reverse Bloomberg's failed educational policies but as a national podium. He can fight to end NCLB, to end of the "Reign of Testing Terror", to end the misuse of Charter Schools, and for reasonable universal pre-k.
DINOs like Rahm Emanuel and NY Governor Cuomo still think they should talk about closing failing schools. Neighborhood schools are being closed in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, etc. Maybe if New Yorkers elect de Blasio we can also send a message to Congress and Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama.
If the goal of NCLB is really to help our least advantaged children to get a sound education, then who could be against it? But the movement has been hijacked by ideologues who think we need to break unions first. And many of those would-be union busters don't really care about the kids. They just want to cut their own taxes.
I wish Bloomberg's reforms had worked. But they haven't. Ten years ago 75% of NYC eighth graders weren't performing at their grade level. And sadly we see the same poor performance now.
I doubt this is the end of NCLB. but it might be the beginning of the end.